where I’m from

Tommy said to my friends: “You’re funny!” 🙂 This was after Kelly regaled us with the joke about a man returning to college and learning something about logic. She went on to talk about racial tensions in Kansas:
Me and Steph went to a KKK rally in Topeka….”
I had to interrupt: “We went to protest the rally!”
Meanwhile, Kay dispensed her wisdom:

“If you can’t do anything else about life, you might as well laugh at it.”

Later, at Frances’ pool party, a bunch of hooligans from the old days gathered. Tammy teased Kathy’s kids about horseback riding: “Merry-go-rounds don’t count.” Someone (was it Lori?) sprained her ankle the last time she rode a horse.
How’d you do that?
I was drunk and fell off.
Everyone told me I looked better without the hair. No surprise. 🙂
The hours drifted by, filled with easy conversation. When I returned to Kansas City two years ago for my nephew’s funeral, it did not even occur to me that some of my old friends might appear – I had been away for more than two decades, hadn’t everyone else scattered too? Nope, Kay said, I was the only one. I hoped for a chance to tell everyone how much their friendship means to me, the stability I gain from knowing that they are all still there. We were not in a sentimental space, just a casual one – like the old days.
After the long lazy day, five of us scooted off to catch Gay Pride. In the end, it did not matter at all that festivities ended at 10 pm instead of midnight – our arrival at the Liberty Memorial outdoor venue at 9:54 created another adventure. We moved on to
Organizers pitched this as the 30th year, which is a slight exaggeration. When we – me, Bill Todd, Marc Hein, and a very few others – got together in 1988 to plan a Gay and Lesbian Awareness event (GALA), there had not been any pride events in the KC area for several years. We did know they had occurred before, but – as far as I know – had no contact with any former organizers. Maybe some of the original organizers reappeared after I moved away? We held a first GALA event with a measly 200 participants, which grew to 500 the second year. I returned to town for the third year’s event – an estimated 3000 and the first ever parade. Marc insisted I ride in the lead car (some people whom I didn’t know weren’t so happy about that but others agreed).
This was my first experience with the humility necessary to be a public figure. I use this concept deliberately – because I failed, and the lesson has never left.
I had no part in planning that year. My activism had led me to democratic politics and national-level organizing in the lesbian community, I had been fired (literally because of activism) and moved away. Marc and I talked about AIDS and the gay community for most of the ride. He was expert at setting the pace – I felt we us moving so slowly! The route was long…I lost track of time. Suddenly we topped a hill and a huge roar greeted us – we were at Southmoreland Park and a huge crowd spotted us the moment we came into view. I heard them before I saw them. The noise nearly compelled me to stand – in fact, I struggled with the visceral shock: this moment of collective celebration deserved cheering and I was the one in the only position to act as cheerleader. All it would have taken was for me to stand up and wave my arms – to use my body as a sign of triumph.
I could not do it. I was too embarrassed. I felt doubt – was I even supposed to be there? Should it have been someone else in the passenger seat of the lead car? I could not let go of my own ego and allow myself – my Self, in the guise of my Body – to symbolize for all of us that extraordinary historical moment.
This year, like last, there were tens of thousands of people celebrating pride in our community. Most events were at the largest outdoor venue in Kansas City (short of a sports stadium), rife with symbolic value. From those humble single afternoon programs, the event now spans an entire weekend. The estimate was thirty thousand people, of all stripes, religions, races, and ages: a human rainbow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *